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Italy high court strikes down immunity law that shielded Berlusconi

[JURIST] The Italian Constitutional Court [official website, in Italian] on Wednesday struck down [press release, DOC, in Italian] the 2008 law granting immunity from prosecution to the four highest officials of the country, including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [official profile, in Italian; BBC profile], finding it unconstitutional. The high court ruled 9-6 against the law, basing the decision on principles contained in article 3 and article 138 [text, in Italian] of the Italian Constitution, which provide that all citizens are equal before the law, and that granting immunity of public officials requires a constitutional change rather than an ordinary law. The 2008 law, known in Italy as Lodo Alfano, was a second attempt to block prosecution against Berlusconi by drafting legislation granting him immunity. The court's decision means that some of the four cases against Berlusconi that were blocked by the law could be reopened, including one involving his former lawyer, British barrister David Mills [JURIST news archive]. While members of the opposition welcomed [Libero report, in Italian] the ruling, members of the center-right planned to continue backing Berlusconi.

In February, Mills was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for accepting a $600,000 bribe to give false testimony [JURIST reports] at two trials in 1997 and 1998 involving Berlusconi's broadcasting company Mediaset [corporate website, in Italian]. The bribery and corruption trial against Berlusconi and Mills began in 2007, but Berlusconi was removed as a defendant in July 2008 after the new law granted top Italian lawmakers immunity from prosecution [JURIST report] while in office. Berlusconi has faced trial on at least six occasions involving charges of false accounting, tax fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, and giving false testimony [JURIST reports]. In October 2007, Italy's highest court of appeals upheld Berlusconi's April 2007 acquittal [JURIST reports] on bribery charges. That trial was initially blocked in 2004 by a bill drafted by Berlusconi's ally, and later defense lawyer, Gaetano Pecorella. The trial resumed [JURIST report] after the bill was struck down as unconstitutional. In 2005, Berlusconi was acquitted of corruption charges despite testimony accusing him of giving kickbacks to the late Socialist premier Bettino Craxi [JURIST report].

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